How is a charter school different from a public school?

Charter vs Public-3

As a parent of school-aged children, you may be considering a local school in your neighborhood or a charter school. Charter schools have grown in popularity in the past decade, but understanding what a charter school is and if it benefits your students can still be confusing. We hope this information will provide clarity and help you in making the best decision for your family.

Did you know?

  • Students can attend either charter or public schools for free.
  • Public school enrollment requires students to live within the school's boundary lines while charter schools are "schools of choice." This means that families can apply for any school in their state; however, they may be subject to a student lottery for entry. 
  • Both charter and public schools receive public funding and must adhere to specific state laws and regulations. 
  • Both types of schools are required to admit any student and to not discriminate against ethnicity, race, or religion. 

What are Charter Schools?

According to the Utah State Charter School Board,

  • Charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to any student who is a resident of the state. A public school is defined as a school that is open to the public, funded by the public, and accountable to the public. Charter schools meet all three tests.
  • Charter Schools are governed by independent boards and held accountable to a legally binding written contractual agreement with their authorizer. It is this charter agreement that allows for the operation of the charter school.
  • Charters Schools offer parents and students additional choices about where students attend school and the school's curricular emphasis. They allow educators freedom to try new strategies to inspire students and to experiment with innovative ways of educating students.

There are more than 120 charter schools in Utah and 37 in Nevada as of April 2020, making charter schools a serious consideration for parents seeking a different education for their children.

New possibilities

  • Charter schools provide education options for families outside of traditional district boundary lines. 
  • Charter schools define their purpose and methods through charter agreements authorized by the State. 
  • Charter schools have the freedom to "try new strategies to inspire students."

According to the Utah State Charter School Board, "The variety in Utah charter schools should not be overlooked. Some schools focus on serving educationally disadvantaged students, while others target advanced students and offer strong college preparatory curriculum. Schools also vary in their focus (e.g., arts, STEM, classical education) and in their educational programs."

Accountability and Standards

While charter schools are operated and overseen by independent governing boards, they must meet standards outlined in their charter to secure state funding. 

At American Preparatory Academy, our charter defines our purpose, curriculum, teaching method, and other elements of our school. It also outlines essential accountability measures. Our mission, which is included in our charter agreement, states, "Our school's mission is to provide a classical, liberal arts education through an orderly, safe and nurturing learning environment wherein content-rich, efficient curriculum and research-based instructional methodologies are utilized to ensure that every student achieves academic success and develops good character based on concrete measurements."

The leadership at American Preparatory Academy is accountable for all tenets of this mission, ensuring that educational activity and instruction is always in alignment with this statement. 

This is an example of American Preparatory Academy's commitment to educating students; however, all charter schools are held to the same accountability measures. This is why we, at APA, believe in the value of charter education for all students providing choice and innovation for families. 

How is the enrollment process different for a charter school than a public school and why is there a lottery?

Over the past 15 -20 years, charter schools have become more popular as increasing numbers of parents are choosing a school of their choice. Lotteries are random drawings where students are selected for a seat in their grade. Lotteries provide an equitable way to enroll in a charter school since seats fill up quickly, and many schools have long waiting lists for entry. 

The first step to enrolling in a charter school is to apply online, similar to a public school. Once the application is submitted, the student's information is entered into the school database, and they are eligible for selection. 

Public schools and boundary lines

The lottery process is very different from the process used in public schools. Public schools base enrollment requirements on predefined district boundary lines. If a student is outside the boundary or considered a "nonresident," an appeal can be submitted to the local district school board, but there is no guarantee of enrollment. 

Charter schools serve students in and out of their immediate communities. They do not require students to live in boundary lines to be eligible to enroll; they have the autonomy to teach the curriculum that will best serve students, and charter schools offer alternatives for parents seeking something different for their kids.

Public school standards

Public schools adhere to eduction standards set by the state board of education and are not exempt from state, federal, or local laws regarding education. Public schools are governed by school districts that are run by an elected school board.

The public school curriculum is determined by the board of education and implemented by the school district. All students within a school district are free to apply for their local public schools within their boundary lines.

Similarly, charter schools must adhere to the same education standards as public schools. They are not exempt from any state, federal, or local laws regarding education standards; however, charter schools can define their curriculum, which must be declared in their school charter and approved by the State Charter School Board. This is another reason charter schools are great options for students.

What option is best for your family?

If you were unfamiliar with the differences and similarities between charter and public schools, we hope this information helps you.

Many schools, both public and charter, offer an exceptional educational experience that encourages life-long learning. We believe that parents should be able to make the best decision for their family, which is why we endeavor to provide the highest quality education we can to as many students as possible. 

American Preparatory Academy campuses are located in Utah and Nevada.

Click here to learn more to learn more or call for more information at 801-797-0169


References and Resources:

Public Schools Enrollment Requirements

USCSB Charter School Report

Public School Directory 

American Preparatory Academy Mission Statement

American Prep Charter Agreement